2016 Phillies Report Card: Andres Blanco
In 2016, utility infielder Andres Blanco spend his fourth season with the Phillies’ organization. Originally signed to a Minor League deal during the 2012 season, he spent that season in Lehigh Valley providing depth at all four non-catching infield positions, without hitting well. He returned to the Phillies in 2014, and after a similarly unexciting Minor League season, Blanco was promoted to the Majors and actually produced a 105 wRC+ over a short 25 game sample. In 2015 he displayed even stronger results – producing a 138 wRC+ over 261 plate appearances.
The corresponding 1.5 fWAR was far past expectations, but there was still the sense that this was less than half a season of production from a utility infielder who had never even produced like this in the Minor Leagues. Regardless, that production, versatility, and phenomenal clubhouse reputation made his $1.45 million 2016 contract a no-brainer for the Phillies to sign. Blanco had stints in six previous Major League seasons with three other teams, always carrying a low strikeout rate and defensive versatility. However, since arriving in the Majors with the Phillies, it appears that he has added a new skill – roughly average or better power. Now over 523 plate appearances with the team (including 2016), Blanco has produced a .274/.337/.457 line, which includes a .183 ISO.
Specifically in 2016, Blanco entered the season with an unconvinced ZiPS Projection. The system projected less than half a season in playing time, a large amount of regression in his power numbers, and a corresponding decrease in total production (88 OPS+) hovering around replacement level. Instead, what we saw was less than half a season in playing time, a moderate amount of regression in his power numbers, and a corresponding decrease in total production (93 OPS+) hovering around replacement level. Blanco did have the highest strikeout rate of his career in 2016, and baserunning metrics have never loved him, but for his role, that is ample offensive production.
He reportedly maintained his positive influence to the team and objectively maintained his defensive versatility, so he gains even further credit with the Phillies’ organization. On the subject of his defense, metrics from DRS to UZR to FRAA are all various degrees of ‘tepid’ in their evaluations. Given Blanco’s microcosmic innings sample and the general surehanded impression he left with this observer, I feel ok saying that’s he’s probably roughly average in the infield, allowing for some variation depending on the specific position.
A broken finger in July did limit his playing time, and he was marginally less effective after returning from the DL. However, it was not noticable enough to project any kind of a rebound in 2017, and entering his age 33 season, he is what he is at this point. That’s not a knock – of the departing free agents, Blanco is probably the one with the highest chance of returning. If he’s a benefit to young players, providing a competent bat, and adding depth at four positions from a single roster spot, it’s easy to predict that he’d be worth modest raise it would likely require to resign him.
In 2016 Andres Blanco was exactly what he was expected to be, and continues to prove that he was a wise Minor League signing five full seasons ago.